The latest UK government data shows that in 2019, one million women were working in core STEM occupations. This means that women now make up just 24% of the core STEM workforce. However, looking at the tech sector specifically, women in tech only made up 16.4% of the that industry in 2019 – down from 17.4% in 2018. This decrease of women in tech comes as unwelcome news for a growing sector that is crying out for talent, while at the same time facing severe skills shortages.
Take cybersecurity, for example. This highly specialised, in-demand occupation welcomes people with STEM qualifications and experience among its ranks. Yet, it is facing a chronic and widening skills gap with 291,000 roles unfilled in Europe alone, according to a study by (ISC)2. Addressing the problem is complex but is rooted in our education system. In the UK, fewer girls study these subjects at secondary school than boys and the gap grows further when young people choose their areas of study at university.
While the issue has quite rightly received increasing attention in recent years, those committed to equality are working against generations of cultural and social norms that will require determined commitment to rectify. Take the perennial organisational issue of unconscious bias, for example. By its nature, it’s a problem more challenging to address than overt efforts to favour men over women, and fixing it requires open-minded honesty and perseverance. Not only do organisational leaders have to accept the possibility that unconscious bias exists among their people and processes, but they also need the motivation to evaluate and update their training and systems to eliminate it from culture and conduct.
To put it directly, men have a pivotal role to play in narrowing the STEM gender gap. More often than not, they are in the position of the interviewer, for example, with most STEM decision makers being white, middle aged men. This can influence who is hired and promoted, and men need to be encouraged, trained and in some cases forced to create diverse teams. This should include training in conscious and unconscious bias and to broaden understanding about the benefits of diversity.
And don’t forget – this is not just equality for equality’s sake. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, “Closing the gender gap in STEM would contribute to an increase in EU GDP per capita by 2.2 to 3.0% in 2050. In monetary terms, closing the STEM gap leads to an improvement in GDP by €610 – €820 billion in 2050.” The research also points out that STEM equality would have a direct and significant impact on employment levels, with total EU STEM roles rising by 850,000 to 1,200,000 by 2050.
The benefits of achieving equality of education, opportunity and careers across STEM are well documented. We are in an era of rising awareness, backed by proactive action to move forward – but more needs to be done, more rapidly, if we are all to see the real-world benefits. Getting there offers an undoubted win-win for every stakeholder with an interest in building a better shared future.
By Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President at Skillsoft
Agata Nowakowska is the Area Vice President UK at Skillsoft EMEA. Agata has over 17 years’ experience in the learning industry as well as extensive experience in international sales and performance management.
Kizzi Nkwocha is the editor of Business Game Changer Magazine and publisher of The UK Newspaper, Money and Finance Magazine, the net’s fastest growing wealth creation publication. Kizzi Nkwocha is chair of The Ethical Publishers Association and co-chair of The Logistics Association. Kizzi made his mark in the UK as a publicist, journalist and social media pioneer. As a widely respected and successful media consultant he has represented a diverse range of clients including the King of Uganda, and Amnesty International. Nkwocha has also become a well-known personality on both radio and television. He has been the focus of a Channel 4 documentary on publicity and has hosted his own talk show, London Line, on Sky TV. He has also produced and presented both radio and TV shows in Cyprus and Spain.